Here’s an eerie Expressionism infographic for Drama and Theatre teachers and their students. It contains the main conventions of Expressionism as it appeared in the theatre, particularly in Germany in the 1910s and 1920s.
Origins and Influences of Expressionism
Expressionism in the theatre emerged in the early 20th century, primarily in Germany, as part of the broader Expressionist movement that also influenced visual arts, literature, cinema, and music. This movement was characterised by its emphasis on the internal states of characters, often exploring themes of alienation, angst, and the quest for authenticity in a rapidly industrializing world. Expressionism sought to convey the subjective experience of reality, distorting it radically for emotional effect in order to evoke moods or ideas.
Expressionism originated as a reaction against the materialism and complacency of bourgeois society, as well as the realism and naturalism dominant in the late 19th-century theatre. Influenced by the works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, and Karl Marx, among others, Expressionists were deeply concerned with the crises of the human condition, including the tensions between the individual and society, the conflict between one’s inner self and the external world, and the existential search for meaning in an increasingly mechanised and impersonal world.
Characteristics of Expressionism in the Theatre
The hallmark of Expressionist theatre is its focus on the emotional and psychological states of characters, often exploring themes of alienation, existential despair, and the quest for authenticity in a superficial society. The movement is characterized by several key features:
- Stylisation: Expressionist theatre abandons the detailed sets and realistic portrayals of naturalism for abstract, simplified, and often distorted sets and costumes. This stylization is meant to reflect the subjective perception of reality.
- Non-linear narratives: Expressionist plays frequently employ non-linear storytelling, with fragmented scenes and episodic structures that mirror the chaos and fragmentation of the modern world.
- Emphasis on the grotesque: Many Expressionist works feature grotesque imagery and characters, highlighting the corruption and decay of society.
- Use of monologue: Monologues and soliloquies are commonly used to delve into the inner thoughts and feelings of characters, often revealing their deepest fears and desires.
- Non-Realistic Staging and Design: Expressionist theatre often employed abstract, distorted, or exaggerated sets and costumes. Scenery was designed to reflect the emotional landscape or psychological state of the characters rather than to replicate real-world locations accurately.
- Symbolism and Metaphor: Objects, settings, and actions in Expressionist plays were laden with symbolic meaning, often representing broader societal issues or internal psychological conflicts.
- Focus on the Protagonist’s Inner Reality: The narrative typically centered on a protagonist’s subjective experience, exploring their fears, desires, and psychological turmoil. Characters were often archetypal or symbolic rather than fully fleshed-out individuals.
- Emotive Dialogue and Monologues: Language was used not for realistic dialogue but as a tool to express the inner thoughts and feelings of the characters, often through monologues or disjointed, fragmented speech.
- Themes of Crisis and Alienation: Expressionist plays frequently dealt with themes of existential angst, despair, and the dehumanizing effects of modern society, technology, and war.
Key Expressionist Plays and Playwrights
Several playwrights were pivotal to developing and propagating Expressionism in the theatre. Georg Kaiser and Ernst Toller in Germany, for example, wrote plays that epitomized the movement’s themes and styles. Kaiser’s From Morn to Midnight (1912) and Toller’s Man and the Masses (1920) are prime examples, showcasing individuals in conflict with society and themselves. August Strindberg, though not an Expressionist per se, influenced the movement with his plays that delved into psychological realism and the exploration of the subconscious mind, notably in A Dream Play (1902).
The impact of Expressionism on theatre was significant, influencing not only contemporary theatre practices but also future generations of playwrights and directors. Its emphasis on the psychological and the subjective helped pave the way for later movements in theatre, such as Absurdism and Surrealism. Expressionist techniques and themes can be seen in later playwrights like Samuel Beckett, Eugene O’Neill, and Arthur Miller, particularly in exploring characters’ inner lives and societal alienation.
Expressionism also influenced directors such as Erwin Piscator and Bertolt Brecht, although Brecht would later critique and move beyond its emphasis on the subjective in favour of a more detached, critical approach to social issues in his development of Epic Theatre.
Download Expressionism Infographic
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Feel free to use this infographic in your classroom. The DramaTeacher.com is already attributed to the infographic. If you print it at your school or workplace, it may not look as professional as at a print shop. However, it is conveniently designed to print at A3 without pixelation or white spaces and should look good on a classroom wall. If you have ever tried to print a regular infographic before, you will probably appreciate that this one is designed in landscape and will look fine in either A4 or A3 size. Alternatively, you could distribute it to your students digitally.